Our office is just a stone’s throw from where I live. In fact, all I have to do is cross EDSA and voila, hello office. But even within such a short distance, I get plenty of opportunities to step back, take a look at myself and think about the world I live in.
What am I talking about, eh? Actually, I feel like every single day I feel judged based on how I look and the clothes I wear.
You see, the best thing about the company I work for is that they allow employees to come to work in any get-up that the employee finds comfortable. With only a few restrictions — no sandos, no sandals, no slippers. Many times, my co-workers and I choose to just report to work in a T-shirt, a pair of jeans and Chucks. That’s all right with the company. After all, I always have a semi-formal jacket handy in case an emergency meeting presents itself.
But there are occasions when I feel that it is imperative to level up the wardrobe. When I know that there will be important meetings with clients ahead that day, I will wear my long sleeves, coat, black slacks, and leather shoes. That normally happens twice a week.
And on the days that I look formal or semi-formal, I notice some little things that allow me to see just how differently we treat people based on how they look.
My normal morning routine upon leaving the house includes the following:
1. Crossing the overpass (MRT Boni station) where I usually pass by several condo-selling agents waiting for potential buyers on the way down.
2. Buying breakfast at a cafeteria at the ground level of our office building. In this cafeteria, there is usually no line. Customers just approach the counter and order.
3. And, entering the building.
Whenever I have the semi-formal or smart casual look, this happens:
1. On the way down the wide staircase, I get blocked a number of times by these real estate agents, giving me their pamphlets and the moment I take it, they invite me inside to which I respond, “Sorry, I’m late for work.”
2. The counter girl at the cafeteria treats me courteously. “Sir, ano pong order n’yo?” “Gusto nyo po ng ketchup, sir?” “Scrambled po ba or sunny-side-up yung egg?” Great! Customer service at its best! Love it.
3. The guard stationed at the entrance of the building doesn’t bother to check my bag. He just lets me breeze through the entrance to the elevators.
That would have been nice. However, whenever I am in my usual get-up (T-shirt, jeans, chucks), this happens:
1. No one from the roster of real estate agents waiting for potential clients care about me. They don’t move from where they stand unless there’s somebody behind me that they think has the means to afford their products. That’s okay, though. I don’t need to be invited inside again, anyway.
2. But things get annoying when I enter the cafeteria. Unless I’m the only customer at the time, I am usually not the first to be served even when I’m the first at the counter. They usually say “Anong order?” That’s it. No choice whether I’d love my egg scrambled or sunny-side-up; they’ll just give me whatever is there. No more ketchup for me, unless I ask.
3. I get blocked and inspected by the guard. Sometimes, they even check whether my ID is real. That’s alright, they’re doing their job. But it just amuses me.
What’s more baffling is the thought that most of the time, these are the same people. Don’t they realize that I’m the same person they treated oh so excellently the day before? That I just lost the coat and the leather shoes?
Just last week, I was just gonna have coffee with my friend Tonet at MegaMall. While waiting for her, I decided to pay my credit card dues at a bank. I was wearing a T-Shirt, a pair of shorts and again, Chucks. I couldn’t help but notice how the guard blocked me and asked, “Boy, san ka?” I answered with “Kuya, magbabayad ng credit card.”
So I fell in line. And when it was finally my turn, I immediately handed her the accomplished form and the 100 dollar bill. Here’s what happened:
Teller: Hindi kami nagsusukli ng dollars dito.
Me: OK lang, ate, kahit pesos na lang. Nagsusukli naman kayo ng pesos, di ba?
Teller: Hindi nga kami nagsusukli ng dollars dito.
Me: OK lang nga ate na pesos, basta may sukli.
Teller: O sige, akina yung form. Pirmahan mo dito kasi may bura.
Me: (signs the form)
Teller: Hindi kami nagsusukli ng dollars dito ha.
Me: (slightly mad, slightly lang) You know what miss, I don’t care. I told you, I don’t mind pesos. Just give me my damn change.
Teller: (switches to sweet mode) Ay OK po sir, pesos na lang po yung change. Wait lang po sir ah.
It amuses me how quickly her tone changed the moment I spoke in straight English. But more than that, I wonder whether this would have turned out differently had I chosen a more formal look that afternoon.
It makes me think about how we, myself included, treat people differently and according to how they look. I mean, think about it.